CORAOPOLIS, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Air National Guard's 171st Air Refueling Wing completed a groundbreaking mission, refueling U.S. Navy E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes.
While this is not the first time these Navy planes have been refueled midair by the U.S. Air Force, the operation is relatively new, with this being the first mission of its kind conducted by the 171st.
The mission, requested by Air Mobility Command, allowed boom operators and pilots from the 171st to partner with pilots from Airborne Command and Control Squadron (VAW) 126 Seahawks and ground controllers from USS Daniel Inouye as a joint team. Maintainers de-iced and prepared the aircraft for flight in near-zero temperatures.
The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is an all-weather, carrier-based Advanced Early Warning System aircraft equipped with a command and control platform and radar system. After departing an aircraft carrier, the aircraft uses advanced electronic sensors and some of the most advanced radar systems in the world to survey the surrounding sea and land.
Depending on the mission, the aircraft may warn of enemy aircraft attacks, control the aircraft carrier's combat air patrol fighters, or detect enemy warships or forces. The model refueled on this mission, Delta, is the first E-2 model outfitted for aerial refueling during production. By adding this strategic capability, the aircraft can now complete seven-hour missions versus four hours, increasing the distance of a Carrier Strike Group's reach.
That's how missions like this can support Navy operations. How do they support the 171st?
"This was a good opportunity for us to refuel an aircraft we have never worked with before," said Master Sgt. Robert "Bo" Winovich, a boom operator and instructor assigned to the 171st. "We get the chance to work with Navy aircraft at deployed locations, but it's less often that we get the opportunity for this training at home."
Navy aircraft aren't refueled straight through the traditional boom usually seen under a KC-135. Instead, they are refueled through an attachment to the boom called a drogue. Boom type refueling requires the boom operator to guide the probe into the receiver's receptacle to refuel, while with drogues, the receiver flies to meet the probe in the basket-shaped drogue.
For this mission, Winovich not only refueled the E-2D but also served as an instructor while Staff Sgt. Tanner Jackson operated the boom.
No additional certification is required to refuel Navy aircraft, so the hands-on experience is the best way to train and prepare boom operators for real missions. Because the aerial refueling capability is so new, with VAW 126 receiving their first E-2Ds in 2020, each refueling mission doubles as a training opportunity.
"The E-2D is a unique type of receiver. It has close proximity to dangerous areas of aerial refueling, with the probe over the windscreen and propellers a close distance to the probe area," said Winovich. "Sgt. Jackson did an excellent job with the refueling, as did the receiver crew. The tanker pilots and staff did a good job planning and working with our Navy partners as well."
The mission was documented by video, which will be used to train other boom operators in the 171st and the Air National Guard.
As the home of an aircraft simulator and boom simulator, the 171st is already a prime location for training Airmen from the wing and across the country. Having boom operators and pilots experienced at refueling the E-2D and other Navy aircraft adds to the appeal of coming to Pittsburgh for military training and increases the readiness of the 171st.